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Have a Garden and a Dog Too – Karen Murphy

Rottweiler_vegetable garden_webHaving dogs and a nice garden as well often seems to be an impossible dream.  Dogs love to dig, play with branches and sticks and run for the sheer joy of it.  Success can be had but it does involve management, planning and supervision to blend your dog’s natural doggy behaviour with their surroundings.

The dog behaviours that people generally hate most, such as digging or destroying plants, are perfectly normal activities for a dog.  Therefore trying to stop one from doing them is going to be very challenging.  The average person’s natural reaction is to tell the dog off or even smack or yell at it however, if the dog has never been taught what it is allowed to do outside, there is rarely success when trying to use punishment.

Joyful co-existence with dogs will always be relative to the amount of time that the owner spends training their dog.  Dogs don’t come to us knowing that the garden beds are off limits or that a particular spot is a no-go zone for digging.  Just as a dog might be house trained when it is inside, the same training should apply when it is outside.  Unfortunately most of us just stick dogs outside and hope for the best which, when you think about it, seems a bit crazy.

I am a person who would never get a dog if I couldn’t have him inside. They are part of my family, fur and all.  I spend a lot of energy teaching my puppies what is appropriate behaviour inside my house which includes toilet training, general manners and what can be chewed and what can’t.  So if I can teach my dog what I want inside, why shouldn’t I put the same effort into teaching my dog what is appropriate outside?  If I’ve never taught my dog that it’s fine to chew his toy outside but not my favourite plant, why should he not think otherwise?

It is always important to remember that we have bred dogs for hundreds of years to be our companions.  So, when we separate them from us and make them live outside while we live inside, we can create stress, boredom and anxiety for them which are often reasons for backyard destruction.  It also means that outside dogs are rarely supervised and lack of supervision means they will create their entertainment, with or without your permission.

Your chances of success will increase further if you are able to put some time into making sure your garden meets the dog’s basic needs.  For example, we know that puppies love to dig.  Rather than try and prevent digging, give the dog an area where it can dig.  Encourage and reward it for digging there.

If you have multiple dogs, it’s a good chance that they will want to run and chase each other and it is likely they will always follow the same track.  If that is the case, think about redesigning your garden beds so that plants don’t get trampled and allow space for the “doggy race track”.  Dogs also have a tendency to follow the same path from doors to gates.  Consider paving those areas or plant a hardy grass that won’t die from the amount of activity it receives.

Another option is creating your own “dog run”.  A dog run is an enclosed area put in a suitable part of your backyard where you can confine your dog when you are unable to supervise it.  A dog run should be set up to provide adequate space, shelter, bedding, toys and water for short periods and should be large enough so that there is plenty of room to roam around in.  If you want to go down that path make sure that you introduce your dog to the run slowly and only leave it there for short periods of time until they are used to it and have learned to enjoy spending time there.  Otherwise you could inadvertently create more stress if the dog starts to worry about being locked up when you aren’t there.


Karen and RiotKaren Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful Border Collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot.  Karen has had immense experience and success with her dogs, all border collies except for Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA.  Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.

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